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'The Getaway' **** Movie/ **** Blu-ray Review 031809
The Work = ****
Speaking of favorites, I don’t really do the favorite film and favorite director thing as I can never pick just one. That being said, if I had to pick a favorite filmmaker, if my life depended on it, the answer would probably be Sam Peckinpah. It is no secret the filmmaker seemed to love creating chaos wherever he went. The Sam Peckinpah films that are great are great in spite of the man as much as they are because of him. I would rank ‘The Getaway’ as one of his great films although some would say it is one of his weaker works.
I suspect fans of author Jim Thompson’s novel of the same name were disappointed when they saw Peckinpah’s ‘The Getaway’. From what I remember of the novel, the film bears little resemblance to it or its characters, except in the broadest of ways. Instead, Peckinpah’s film plays like a 70s reworking of the Raoul Walsh helmed, 1941 crime drama, ‘High Sierra’. This has to do with filmmaker Walter Hill being brought in after McQueen was unhappy with Thompson’s adaptation of his own novel. Weather or not McQueen and Peckinpah had Humphrey Bogart, Walsh, and 'High Sierra' in mind all along is not clear to me but once Hill was writing, they seemed to be using the 1940s film as a rough starting point. Both ‘High Sierra’ and ‘The Getaway’ follow somewhat gentlemanly criminal figures as they run from the law (while carrying 1911 .45s no less.) Although ‘High Sierra’ and ‘The Getaway’ end quite differently, they both have the central figures shooting it out in a standoff at the last act of the respective films. Humphrey Bogart as Roy Earle blasts his way off of a mountain and Steve McQueen as Doc McCoy shoots his way down from the top of a hotel in ‘The Getaway’.
Peckinpah opens his film in a prison. I had watched 'The Getaway' so many times over the years when I was a teenager that I did not appreciate the opening until I was much older. I didn't think the opening was bad by any stretch but I didn't realize how much information is conveyed during the opening of the film. Doc McCoy is in prison and as the film opens Peckinpah plays the audio from Doc's parole hearing over footage of his life in prison. Intercut with prison life are short bursts of Doc with his wife outside of prison (no doubt what he longs for.) Doc is denied parole and like the wild deer that are trapped on the prison grounds in the opening shot of 'The Getaway', so too is Doc trapped and in trouble. In a short amount of time Peckinpah shows that Doc is a controlled man coming apart at the seams. He has been inside too long and has to get out before he has a breakdown.
Doc snaps and he turns to his one ally, his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw.) He tells her to do anything, no matter what. He sends her to Jack Beynon (Ben Johnson,) a dangerous man, with considerable pull on both sides of the law. Doc never considers what he is asking his wife to do and what the consequences of sending her to Beynon will be. Carol goes to Beynon and does what she has to. Sleeping with Carol won't be all Beynon is after either. Doc is a thief and if Beynon is getting him out of jail than he is darn well going to put the man to work.
If you have not seen the 'The Getaway' and don't want to know details about it, including the ending skip down to the review of the Blu-ray components. Consider this your SPOILER WARNING, STOP READING TO AVOID SPOILERS.
Not surprisingly, things don’t go as planned for Doc and Carol. Doc gets out of the joint and his reunion with Carol is more difficult than they both expected. Doc has been inside prison too long and now has some difficulty getting in the mood. Carol is battling her own problems; guilt and resentment for having been sent to Beynon. Doc is a man of control and he plans everything out but when he snapped inside prison, he had neither the time nor capacity to think ahead. Consequently, he never considered what his wife would have to do for Beynon.
The robbery Beynon wants the happy couple to commit is a big one that will get a lot of attention. Plus, he and Carol are forced to take on two accomplices in the robbery: Frank (Bo Hopkins) and Rudy (Al Lettieri.) Doc is being put to work right away on a job he is not comfortable with and he is forced to take along two men he doesn't trust. There is no room for negotiations and he can't go back to prison so he has to set up the bank robbery.
For me, the weakest elements of ‘The Getaway’ involve the actual machinations of the robbery. McQueen seems to have wanted to make Doc a thinking man’s criminal, a meticulous planner who tries to consider every angle before doing a job. He is a not a cold blooded killer like the Doc from Thompson's novel. He knows how to kill and can but only does so when he has to. McQueen spent some time at a prison and seems to have done research to flush out Doc's background and make him look comfortable with weapons. I suspect that McQueen wanted Doc to seem like someone who could have been a real thief.
The trouble is, the bank robbery is overblown and out of place with Doc's character. Doc tries to think before he acts and the notion that he would place bombs all over the place as decoys seems out of character. He needs access to the sewer system but picks a manhole in the middle of a busy street. He notes the police patrols and the precise time that the robbery will be going down but considering the explosives left all over the place, the planning comes across as unnecessary. Perhaps it is just me but I suspect it would have seemed less out of character if all of Doc's planning lead to a more elusive and less dangerous (and less high profile) method. Perhaps if the filmmakers had based the score on actual crimes they may have fit better with McQueen’s more grounded interpretation of Doc.
Rudy kills Frank and tries to off Doc. Doc thinks he Kills Rudy and he and Carol go to deliver the loot from the robbery to Beynon. Things go from bad to worse at Beynon’s. The confrontation turns bloody and Carol offs Beynon and Doc nearly shoots Carol. The confrontation brings to the front Carol’s infidelity and not long after Beynon’s end Doc’s rage turns on Carol and he knocks her around. Those of you sensitive to such things may want to be aware that this is a decidedly un-politically correct sequence. Just as it seems Doc is about to get even more violent (nicely illustrated by McQueen clenching a fist and readying a punch) the realization that Carol did what she did for Doc sets in.
This wedge of infidelity is perhaps the heart of ‘The Getaway’. On the surface the film is a somewhat straightforward crime drama but underneath it is a tale about two people in love that have both been hurt by the one person they love the most. For Doc and Carol to survive they have to repair their relationship and if they do not then they will surely die. Peckinpah makes Doc the more sensitive of the two (probably against McQueen’s wishes) and consequently I think it helps make him a more sympathetic character (especially considering the way he smacks around Carol in the one scene.)
Doc and Carol struggle to repair their relationship while on the run from the law. At the same time Rudy finds his way to Harold (Jack Dodson,) a meek Veterinarian. Poor Harold, Rudy is not exactly a nice guy and there seems to be a sort of vile instant chemistry between Rudy and Harold’s wife Fran (a very attractive looking Sally Struthers.) Soon Rudy and Fran are on Doc’s trail and they are not alone. Beynon may be dead but his men are not and while they could care less about him, the money is not something they will let go without a fight. ‘The Getaway’ settles into a husband and wife road movie with Doc and Carol in the lead and Rudy and Fran are sort of the anti-Doc and Carol in hot pursuit.
The pacing of the movie is a tad bit uneven and somewhere in the first 1/3 or so ‘The Getaway’ drags a bit. It is interesting reading Roger Ebert’s review of the film from 1972. Even back then he mentions that the film felt slow (see his full review HERE.) For myself, the slow pace and other minor complaints are more than made up for by the rest of the film. McQueen comes off as pretty badass and when the lead starts flying Peckinpah keeps things pretty entertaining.
I have certain sections that I am especially fond of and I am surprised that the film has grown on me over the years. For instance, at the hotel shootout during the last section of the film here is one very brief moment that I have come to really like. Doc is backing his way up the stairs trading gunfire with Beynon’s men as some chase after him and others ride up in the elevator. Carol goes on ahead, up to the top and runs into the gunmen coming out of the elevator. Carol pulls a pistol and opens fire with a “pop, pop, pop”. There is something about the way she trades fire with the gunmen and how the shots come first haltingly, then quickly that sounds something like what I imagine a real firefight might sound like. It is a quick moment but one of the many that has grown on me over the years.
Yes, the film is a straightforward studio film but there is nothing wrong with that (it was Peckinpah’s most financially successful film.) MacGraw and McQueen were in love in real life and their chemistry onscreen is undeniable. MacGraw and Struthers never looked better and Lettieri is a great villain (supposedly he was intoxicated much of the time that he was filming.) There are many great moments to enjoy and fans of crime dramas will probably dig ‘The Getaway’.
The Blu-ray = ****
First, there is a commentary by Peckinpah enthusiasts and biographers Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. They chat away, admiring the film and discussing different aspects and sometimes the onscreen visuals. The trouble is, there is little structure to the track and I found myself wishing that there was a track by someone like Film Noir expert Eddie Muller. Muller somehow manages to have a conversational tone while delivering structured information about the films he comments on. It is probably an unfair comparison and truth be told, the track on ‘The Getaway’ is enjoyable enough. Plus, it is hard to fault the guys as they all clearly love the material and Peckinpah. They go into a variety of topics, including some details on the production and McQueen and Peckinpah’s relationship.
Next up is the virtual commentary track with Peckinpah, McQueen, and MacGraw. This is a great little feature that consists of audio interview excerpts with the three played over the first scene in 'The Getaway'. While watching the scene, a still photo of the speaker is shown that changes each time the speaker so you always know who is talking. I have long thought that there must be some press interviews and footage from the making of and release of 'The Getaway' out there. There is only about 11 minutes here and I wish there was more. The three talk about different aspects of the film including the inspiration of Bogart, Walsh, and ‘High Sierra’. I always hope that footage and/or interviews from the production of ‘The Getaway’ will turn up and this is the first time any such material has appeared as bonus features. I wish there was more but what is hear is certainly appreciated. For fans of the talent this feature will probably be very enjoyable.
The items that are not found on the DVD but are on the Blu-ray kick off with a new featurette: ‘Main Title 1M1 Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah’ (unfortunately, not in high definition.) This is a roughly half an hour documentary directed by Nick Redman. The film is about musician Jerry Fielding and his relationship with Peckinpah. Naturally, there is some focus on 'The Getaway' as Fielding created the original score for the film which was replaced with a new one by Quincy Jones. Fielding and Peckinpah worked together several times and through interviews with Peckinpah’s former assistant Katy haber, Fielding's wife Camille and Fielding's daughter Redman puts together an enjoyable documentary. Those looking for a lot of info how Fielding put together the score for ‘The Getaway’ or what his intentions were may be disappointed as this is more of a general bit of remising about the man and his off and on friendship with Peckinpah. The only big issue with the film is that it was not encoded in high definition.
Next in line is, the Getaway Reel 4 Bank Robbery Sequence with alternate Jerry Fielding Score (also also not in high definition.) This is the only sequence that has Fielding's original score mixed into the film with dialogue and sound effects. The robbery was a good scene to choose as both Jones and Fielding scored the scene and you can hear how the two chose to emphasize different moments.
Finally there is an alternate audio track with Jerry Fielding's score lade in. Unfortunately, it is not mixed into the film so there is no sound effects and dialogue when listening to the track. Even with that shortcoming this is still a nice treat for Peckinpah fans. Oddly enough, after having read about the lost score over the years and then listening to it a few times on the Blu-ray, I did not have a dramatic reaction one way or the other. Fielding scores different moments then Jones and it is interesting to hear two talented artist's take on the same film. It is too bad that there couldn't be a mixed-in track with dialogue and effects but I'll take whatever I can get.
The biggest strike against the extras is the lack of high definition material. While I would not want it as the expense of film quality, I suspect there could have been a way to include everything in high definition without hurting the transfer of the film. I realize it is wishful thinking but I would have loved to have been able to hear Fielding’s score mixed into the whole film instead of just the one scene. Even with those complaints, the extras are a treat for fans of McQueen and Peckinpah.
All Together = ****
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